Tone Deaf

I can’t sing like a professional or even a gifted amateur, but I can definitely sing “Happy Birthday” on-key. Which is more than 97% of your Average Joes and Janes can manage. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to a table of restaurant revelers try to sing it and not hit a single true note. It’s pathetic. We’re not talking about singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” here. “Happy Birthday” is a popular tune because any whoop-dee-doer can sing it, except most folks can’t find the key of G to save their lives and forget holding onto the melody if they could. Bad singing is all about emotional timidity. Singing on-key takes a certain open-heartedness. You can’t be covert about it. All I know is that every time a table launches into “Happy Birthday” I grimace and go “oh, God…here we go.’

Ambitious Oldboy Fight Scene

A trustworthy source informs that Spike Lee and Josh Brolin shot an ambitious fight sequence for the forthcoming Oldboy (FilmDistrict, 11.27) that was timed at 14 minutes and 30 seconds without a cut. I asked Brolin about this and he replied as follows: “Your source doesn’t understand that if I did a non-stop 14 minutte and 30-second second fight sequence, I’d be dead now. To get through 45 seconds (when we started rehearsing it) left me blanched and heaving. I won’t tell you how long the fight is but it is unique. ”


“For Those Of A Certain Vintage…”

I don’t want to handicap the Best Picture chances for David O. Russell‘s American Hustle by over-praising it based on nothing but a trailer but…do I really have to say it? The cup runneth over. In Like Flynn. And Led Zeppelin‘s “Good Times, Bad Times” ties it all together like Jeff Lebowski‘s oriental rug. (Thanks to Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone for alerting me to this — I didn’t expect to see a trailer until late September or October.)

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Obviously Superior to Danny Kaye Version

I didn’t like the idea of Ben Stiller‘s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (20th Century Fox/Samuel Goldwyn, 12.25) because (a) I never much cared for the 1947 Danny Kaye version but more to the point (b) I’ve always half-despised the idea contained in the original James Thurber story, i.e., a mouse living in a fantasy cave. Whether or not I attain success or failure in life I will at least tough it out in the real world — only losers who take long showers retreat into constant daydreams. So eff this movie, I’ve been telling myself all along. I’m not a fucking mouse and I don’t want to know from Mitty-hood.


Lovelace Confessions

A good percentage of the cast of Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman‘s Lovelace (Millenium, 8.9) sat for a press conference today at the Mandarin Oriental hotel near Columbus Square. Amanda Seyfried, who portrays the victimized Linda Lovelace, seemed vaguely uncomfortable about being asked questions or about having played the role in the first place. Either way her remarks were fascinating for that. She was flanked by costars Peter Sarsgaard, Sharon Stone, Adam Brody, Chris Noth and Hank Azaria.

Like A Rhinestone Cowboy

This image of Alan Ladd in a dopey-looking Durango Dude rodeo outfit has been used for Shane jacket art since the 2000 DVD version, if not before. It’s been used again for the forthcoming Shane Bluray, which I received yesterday from Warner Home Video. Why couldn’t the WHV person who oversees jacket art notice that Ladd never wears this ridiculous get-up in George Stevens‘ classic 1953 western? How difficult could it have been to use a still of Ladd in his fringe-y buckskin outfit (which he does wear in the film) or his blue workshirt and jeans get-up (ditto). No offense and no biggie, but c’mon.

Schrader Spo-Dee-O-Dee

Question: If Lindsay Lohan wants a career again, what advice would you give her when she comes out of rehab?

The Canyons director Paul Schrader: “Stop the Adderall. I mean, that’s fucking speed, and she was taking it every day. And then when she gets too speedy, you have to cut it with some vodka. Great. That’s what we call a speedball. She’s not a drug addict in a conventional sense. I just think that with Adderall…well, I’ve been talking to people about it, and apparently it’s the most abused drug on college campuses by women.” — from a 7.30 Kyle Chandler/Vulture interview.

Thufferin’ Thuccotash

I was looking to post a little side riff on Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which I saw last night. A sideshow of a sham of a side riff. It wasn’t supposed to be a review but a little tangential comment about Liev Schreiber‘s portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson and how a 22 year-old observation from former Johnson administration Roger Wilkins cast some doubt upon the accuracy of the portrayal. But I had to lay a little groundwork first, and before I knew I had written a two-paragraph assessment of the film itself, and then it grew into three paragraphs. I posted it anyway. 20 or 25 minutes later the Weinstein Co. called to remind me that the embargo date is August 12th. I took the piece down.


“When I said ‘realistic ’70s movie’ I meant one that excludes X-factor people. Nobody wants to admit this and I’m sure I’ll be called an elitist for saying so, but only semi-clueless bridge-and-tunnel people from lower-middle-class ‘meathead’ neighborhoods (i.e., those who weren’t connected to dynamic big-city culture) wore terrible hairstyles and laughably grotesque ’70s threads.

Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale in David O. Russell’s American Hustle.

“I was bopping around on the fringes in the mid to late ’70s and I never wore a fucking leisure suit or elephant collars or gaudy sunglasses or had godawful ‘big-hair.’ Okay, I wore flared jeans but I was mainly into T-shirts and Frye boots andBrian DePalma-styled khaki bush-safari jackets and that whole American Gigolo/Giorgi Armani/Milan-influenced thing (i.e., nifty sport jackets, Italian loafers, shirts with small pointed collars).” — from a 4.13.13 post called “Sartorial Nightmare.”

Teacher Salami

“‘The subject of a teacher-student affair may be tabloid fodder,’ the Sundance press notes say about A Teacher, ‘but writer/director Hannah Fidell resists sensationalism or the temptation to pathologize her protagonist.’ I just saw Fidell’s film this afternoon, and boy, was I hoping for a little tabloid sensationalism! Or a touch of pathology. Or a smattering of half-interesting dialogue between the teacher (Lindsay Burdge) and the student (Will Brittain) that might add a little flavor or whatever.

“Alas, no.

“We all know what lazy minimalism is. Especially when concerned with self-destructive, anti-social types. The director-screenwriter will (a) use only the faintest brushtrokes and (b) supply no hard info about who her characters are or what they’re running from or what they need…nothing. You have to sit there and just watch them do things that are stupid and wildly self-destructive and incomprehensible and then…you know, piece it together as best you can. Bad Lieutenant did this. Many indie films have done this. And it’s enervating and faintly boring.

“Except A Teacher isn’t completely boring because Fidell is a fairly disciplined director. She knows how to drill in tight and strip away the extraneous and make it seem as if you’re watching something that might, you know, go somewhere. And Burdge and Brittain are, I admit, fairly intriguing in their radically underwritten roles. They know how to behave.

“You know going in that the affair is going to blow up sooner or later. We’ve all read about real-life dalliances of this sort. The teacher is eventually found out, arrested and so on. So the question: what is it about Burdge’s Diana, a teacher at a high school in a semi-affluent Texas town, that will add to the basic drill? What will we learn about her that will turn our assumptions around or at least gussy them up? What will happen that will make this familiar tale seem stranger or darker or funnier than we might expect?

“Answer: nothing.

“Fidell just shows us interesting natural atmosphere and good acting chops and behavior in and of itself, and then baby, you’re on your own.

“The first thing we learn about Diana is that she’s fucking Eric (Brittain), a smooth, good-looking, rich-kid senior. They meet whenever and however, and all they do is fuck. They don’t talk, they don’t share, they don’t watch movies, they don’t cook meals, they don’t take walks…it’s all about the salami. And then we learn that she can’t stand her mother and refuses to talk with her, and that she has a strained relationship with her blase brother…blankness, blankness.

“About three-fifths of the way through she freaks when she and Eric are fucking at his father’s ranch and a foreman shows up. Out of the blue she feels concerned about the affair being discovered and losing her job. And then she starts feeling repulsed by herself and vents this by rejecting Eric, and then she wants him again and he doesn’t want her and it all goes to hell.

“Diana, in short, is a car wreck waiting to happen. Unstable, wired, crazy, not very bright, emotionally blocked, fucked up….and I’m watching a story about her because why again? Because I’m at the Sundance Film Festival and I had an open slot between 3 pm and 5 pm?” — reposting of 1.18.13 Sundance review called “Flat Teacher.”

NYFF Phillips Splash

Paul Greengrass‘s Captain Phillips will open the 2013 New York Film Festival on Friday, 9.27. Which means…what, the press screening is three or four days earlier? Greengrass can nail this kind of thing blindfolded with one hand tied. Playing the NYFF, as always, means savoring big media attention without tons of competition. Big frog, smallish pond.


For whatever reason an early request for a press ticket to this evening’s screening of Paul Schrader‘s The Canyons at the Walter Reade theatre was overlooked, and I’ve been struggling to gain admittance since yesterday. I’m told by a well-connected source that one reason for the difficulty is that Dina Lohan (Lindsay’s mom) suddenly announced yesterday that she wanted six tickets. If I don’t see it tonight then I don’t see it. I could run a link to Scott Foundas‘s respectful review or Eric Kohn‘s pan, but I’d rather absorb and consider on my own.

Is Jasmine A Form of Self-Portraiture?

In Woody Allen‘s Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett‘s tragic character “has lost her public identity — indeed, has become something of a pariah. She has lost her money, and she has to find something to do. Allen, of course, also endured (in the early ’90s) the shattering of his public identity and a barrage of hostility; like her, he was rejected by one of his children in the wake of scandal. (And, like her, he’s known to the world under a pseudonym.) But Allen didn’t lose his money and he didn’t lose his ability to work; he didn’t struggle and strive to recover his former status, because he was able to simply keep going forward — and the artistic results have often been wondrous.” (more…)

When Altman Was In Perfect Synch

I was all over The Player in early 1992 and pushing it like mad with my editors at Entertainment Weekly. It took at least a couple of weeks after I first caught an early-bird screening in…what was it, mid-February?…before EW‘s “News & Notes” section deigned to run a small descriptive paragraph with an enthusiastic quote or two. My opinion (i.e., that it was a hilariously dry and biting satire that had an uncut, beautifully choreographed extended opening sequence and that it would catch on big-time and that Altman had made perhaps the biggest commercial hit of his career) wasn’t notable or newsworthy, of course. I had to find some non-vested types whose reputation mattered, and whose opinion therefore had weight. I knew and could say, in short, but I couldn’t and wouldn’t be heard because I was a freelance reporter and not a hotshot critic. Even if I was a critic I couldn’t have said anything because it was way too early in the cycle.



The 2013 Locarno Film Festival program was announced today. 2 Guns. A whole lotta George Cukor. Chinatown and Faye Dunaway. It begins on Wednesday, 8.7, and runs until Saturday, 8.17. A smart, elegant, sophisticated gathering. Locarno is in Switzerland, of course, but it’s really northern Italy in almost every other sense — culturally, atmospherically, architecturally. Scores of gelato stands and foodie joints. Pizza, pasta, etc.

I attended ten years ago with Jett and Dylan, who were then 15 and 14. Europe was suffering at the time through one of the worst heat waves in meteorological history, and I remember how we were constantly damp and sweating. (I remember Roger Ebert‘s face being all pink and sweat-beady during an outdoor discussion panel.) The guys and I took an afternoon swim each and every day in Lake Maggiore. (more…)

Anti-Christian Muslim Author Exposed…Not

Reza Azlan, author of “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” apparently decided that the exposure from a Fox News interview was worth having to field a barrage of prejudicial, bone-dumb questions from “Spirited Debate” host Lauren Green. Azlan’s polite but appalled responses are hilarious. He knows there’s no getting through to idiotic Christians with fixed agendas. Watching him struggle to maintain a calm, even-toned composure is akin to an educator trying to explain the basics to an under-educated psychopathic teenager.

Jasmine Is Big

Approving reviews alone aren’t the reason for the phenomenal opening-weekend haul ($102 grand average on six screens) of Woody Allen‘s Blue Jasmine. It’s approving reviews plus Jasmine being the first taste of an award-calibre “fall movie” (“Okay, so it’s a little early!” as Nehemiah Persoff might have said) plus over-35s being sick to death of bullshit zombie ComicCon franchise movies plus the world-class regal swanbird elan of Cate Blanchett. Any HE regulars who’ve seen Jasmine with, you know, thoughts?